For Brewer resident Christopher Pierce, winning the North American Iron GM competition at gaming convention GenCon in Indianapolis last summer was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. As a GM — a game master, a person who creates the story and then runs a role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons — winning it all requires a high level of skill, imagination, knowledge of gameplay and even a bit of showmanship.
“I was blown away,” said Pierce. “That is my first time at GenCon, which is like the mecca for gamers, and I won the whole thing. It was just a huge, huge thrill.”
Pierce, 35, who has been running games for 20 years, has all those requirements in spades. He’ll be running the regional Iron GM competition at this weekend’s seventh annual SnowCon gaming convention, set for Jan. 16 to 18 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
With his background in theater, his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and a burgeoning career on the side as a stand-up comedian, Pierce is an ideal game master — he’s both funny and imaginative. He enjoys running games based on specific worlds, like Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” TV series, or a superhero game modeled after the Marvel Universe, but he’s equally proficient at running classic games like D&D, or darker games based on H.P. Lovecraft.
It’s the creative, performative aspect of the storytelling in GM-ing that got Pierce hooked and keeps him engaged.
“I really like the performance aspect of being a game master,” said Pierce. “It’s almost a strange kind of performance art. You’re creating a story with a bunch of other people right as you go along. And you could play the same game more than once and it’ll have a completely different outcome.”
Pierce has competed in the Iron GM competition three times at the TotalCon gaming convention in Mansfield, Massachusetts, where he placed in the top three in 2012 and 2013. An Iron GM competition involves a game master being given three things — a concept, a monster and a place — and having to quickly come up with a story for a game that involves all of three of those things in a creative and entertaining way.
In 2014, he won first place at Iron GM at TotalCon, which sent him to the North American championship at GenCon in Indiana. In his first year competing at the top level, he won first place. He’ll return to TotalCon next month to defend his title, in hopes of returning to GenCon this summer to try for a second win.
SnowCon, run by Gibran Graham, Monique and Andrew Bouchard and Todd Caron, is sponsored by Bangor game store Game Citadel. It isn’t just for role-playing games, however. Any kind of non-electronic game is welcome — from board games like Settlers of Catan and Axis & Allies to card games like Magic: The Gathering to classics like chess. Role-playing games will, of course, be well-represented, ranging from games based on Star Wars, Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Battlestar Galactica to games based on Sherlock Holmes and Tintin to “The Ghost of UMaine,” a locally created role-playing game that puts players into Fogler Library to investigate a supernatural occurrence.
“There’s as many different types of role-playing games as you can imagine. Anything can be a game,” said Pierce. “There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about gamers, but try a game sometime and you’ll see the level of creativity that it really takes. It’s an art form.”
SnowCon 7 will offer more than 100 gaming sessions to all interested competitors. Registration via warhorn.net is closed for new gaming sessions, but anyone can sign up to be a part of an existing game. A full weekend pass is $40 in advance via snowconmaine.com, or $45 the day of the convention at the Cross Insurance Center; a Saturday-only pass is $25 advance and $30 day of, and a Sunday-only pass is $15 advance, $20 day of. On Friday night the “So You Meet In A Tavern …” opening night party is set for Tantrum Nightclub on Broad Street in Bangor.